The 29th of June 2017 will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. You might have heard of it. In the third quarter of 2015, it gobbled up 94% of the profits for the entire smartphone industry. In July 2016, the billionth unit was sold. In June 2017, it's clear that the iPhone is the most revolutionary and culturally significant piece of technology in the 21st Century — for better or worse.
How is this possible? How is it that a product with so many problems can generate such brand loyalty from its customers?
As the Head of Marketing for an affiliate marketing company, my view is that the iPhone’s success comes from, arguably, the best marketing strategy of the 21st Century. From product placement, to product releases that are covered by the media as significant events, to minimalist shops which are meccas for some of its die-hard customers, Apple is the master of publicity and image.
Of course, that’s just my opinion. Some of the leading marketing and tech experts have their own ideas on why the iPhone has dominated the smartphone market for so long.
Simplicity and Clarity
Mark Gordon, CEO of the mobile phone insurance company Loveit Coverit, puts the iPhone’s success down to a focus on user-friendliness over technical superiority.
“Apple has always prioritised key features that focus on user benefit, rather than being directed by spec. This has helped it simplify the decision-making process.”
Mark goes on to claim that this focus on simplicity affects the expectations of iPhone customers, too. His view is that “while product specifications are available”, iPhone customers “don’t care about technical jargon.” In this sense, the iPhone is more of a fashion accessory than a must-have gadget.
Curiosity Killed the Competition
According to Ben Leach, a PR executive from HeX Productions, Apple drives customers to its product through a “curiosity gap”.
“If I were to tell you multiple things about an iPhone, you probably wouldn't remember everything that I said. Now, if I were to tell you a single thing about the product that is completely different, you'd be more likely to remember this.”
Rather than throwing figures at people, Apple marketing focuses on the potential of the product through tantalising reveals about what it could do. In turn, this means that “people want to find out more. And they usually do…”
However, unlike Mark, Ben also believes that pure tech is also to thank for the iPhone’s dominance — at least at first.
“When Steve Jobs was CEO, not so much now, the iPhone was an absolutely huge innovation. Although touchscreen had been invented, Apple was the first to incorporate it into mobile phone design.”
An Apple a Day for the Rest of Your Life
It’s not just the iPhone’s sales figures that are impressive; its customers’ loyalty to the brand is also legendary. Tim Cameron-Kitchen, the founder of the Nottingham-based digital marketing company Exposure Ninja, believes that this loyalty is no accident.
“The ability to synchronise all your Apple products is so appealing. Downloading music, transferring photos and scheduling a calendar is so much simpler if you are ‘all Apple’ and happily locked into the ecosystem.”
Of course, there is a dark side to all of this synchronisation. As Tim puts it, “they make it significantly more painful for people to switch away to another ecosystem than to simply buy another iPhone.”
The Customer Is Not Always Right
When other smartphone companies introduce new features, they are experimenting. They put something to market and see if people bite. If they do, they’ll do more of it. If they don’t, they’ll backtrack. Amy Jordan, the founder of POP Content, says that the iPhone’s success can be chalked up to the fact that Apple doesn’t do this.
“Apple doesn't simply think of a good idea and release the ‘beta' version to the market to find the bugs.” Rather, Amy is of the opinion that Apple gets it right the first time. The result of this is superior build quality. “My first iPhone was the 5S,” Amy says. “And I'm still happy using it four years down the line.”
Yet, because history tells Apple that it’s so often right, Amy argues that it is capable of making some overconfident gambles. “Things such as the recent removal of the audio headphone jack on the new iPhone seem to be poor design.” While Amy concedes that “people may like to use cordless headphones in the future,” she believes the company's motivations are too transparent here, labelling it “an innovation born from greed rather than usability.”
“The iPhone is a generation-defining product,” says Lawrie Jones, the managing director of Bristol-based marketing agency 42group. According to Lawrie, the iPhone has become a “synonym” for the smartphone. When we think of smartphones, we think of iPhones.
The iPhone did this by aligning the product “with various sectors (youth, aspirational, business etc.) in an incredibly sophisticated way.” This is why an iPhone looks as perfectly appropriate in a teenager’s hand as it does a serious business person or rockstar’s hand. The iPhone is marketed in a way that makes it all things to all people. A huge part of this is likely its aggressively broad product placement strategy.
With a unique combination of stubbornness, simplicity and perfectionism, Apple has dominated the last 10 years. However, Apple’s lauded position as the king of smartphones may be under threat by sloping sales. If Apple is going to dominate the next decade, it needs to define a whole generation again.
About the author
Liubov Khomenko is the Head of Marketing for Adsterra: an affiliate marketing company which works with some of the biggest brands in the world.